EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Down in Mississippi, Brett Favre never should have opened the front door to his backwater estate. He never should have allowed those three not-so-wise men from the Minnesota Vikings back into his life.
Jared Allen, Ryan Longwell and Steve Hutchinson -- they're the recruiters to blame. They convinced the old man to give it one more shot, to do it for the boys, to rage against the undefeated forces of gravity and time.
Favre went for the sell and hitched a ride back to the hinterland. He figured if a 40-year-old icon could make it to the NFC title game, then a 41-year-old icon might make it to the Super Bowl.
But under the Monday night lights in the Jersey marshes, a championship looked about as far away as Lambeau Field.
Sure, in the breathless final minutes, Favre had a chance to beat the New York Jets in his return to the Meadowlands. He had a chance to remind everyone why he was so famous in the first place, why millions of people care that he is alleged to have texted inappropriate pictures of himself to a female co-worker with the Jets.
Favre threw a fatal interception instead, the same fatal interception that cost the Packers the NFC title game three years ago, the same fatal interception that cost the Vikings the NFC title game last winter.
Dwight Lowery returned it 26 yards for the clinching touchdown, and Favre lowered his head, his face an unruly brew of pain and despair. The losing quarterback lifted his face mask and rubbed both hands up into his eyes. From his emotional speech to his teammates in the morning to this heartbreaking defeat that left the Vikings 1-3, Favre had just endured one of the longest days and nights of his largely charmed career.
"Is the allegation against you true or false?" I asked him in his postgame news conference.
"If you want to talk about what happened in the football game tonight," Favre said, "I'd love to."
No, Favre didn't want to talk about that much, either.
"I'm embarrassed we lost this football game," Favre said when asked if he was embarrassed over the allegation and the league's investigation into it.
Minnesota coach Brad Childress confirmed that Favre spoke to the Vikings in the morning after Childress was done with his own address. Asked to describe his message, Favre said, "That's between me and my teammates apparently not all of them."
So Favre was angry over the leaks to ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Michele Tafoya. He was angry over the loss to his former team. He was angry over missing throws late in the game, throws he said "I make in my sleep."
Favre was angry over the searing tendinitis in his right elbow, which he said felt worse than it had all year.
Hey, the guy did prove there's still some magic left in his frayed arm. Favre threw for 233 yards and three scores in the second half, and he did a boyish sprint down the field and a Lambeau leap into Randy Moss' arms when his new best friend hauled in the 500th touchdown pass of Favre's career.
On a two-point conversion attempt, Favre also executed a Barry Sanders-like deke and spin on Vernon Gholston, who grabbed nothing but air and will be hearing about it in the film room for the next few days.
But on that two-point try, Favre missed an open receiver in the corner and was picked off in the end zone, a critical turn of events. As it turned out, his signature moments in this game were shaped by failure, more evidence he made a mistake when deciding to stage this latest comeback.
Favre was dreadful in the first half. He spent much of this storm-delayed game as a rain-soaked mess, fumbling the ball all over the field and chasing after it the way an octogenarian shoos a pigeon in the park. In the end, with defeat all but guaranteed, Favre was crushed from behind by Jason Taylor, the kind of hit no stationary 41-year-old target was designed to take.
Favre also kept grabbing at his elbow, the one that has delivered a record 70,000 passing yards. His surgically repaired ankle was barking, too. In the losing locker room, Favre was seen grimacing as he tried to kick off his shoes.
"I played as hard as I think I always play," he said.
That's not the issue; Favre has always come to play. And by forever flinging the football first and asking questions later, he's been a wildly entertaining quarterback to watch. Favre has this spectacular talent for making every NFL play look like it was borrowed from a five-on-five game of touch in your backyard.
But he's already matched his interception total from last season (seven), and his team looks headed for a 7-9 or an 8-8 season. Beyond the losing record and Favre's battered physical state, the quarterback now faces a possible suspension and, worse yet, a most humiliating end to his Ripken-esque streak of consecutive starts.
"I know he has a lot on his plate," Moss said.
More than he ever bargained for.
At his locker, Favre shared an emotional embrace with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, the two grabbing each other's shoulders and patting each other's backs and whispering into each other's ears.
No, the quarterback isn't the same carefree country boy in the Wrangler jeans ads. Favre no longer looks like a guy who could aw-shucks his way through just about anything.
He just looks like a man from Mississippi who made a mistake. A man who should have kept the door closed on those recruiters from the north, and sat this last season out.